PORT ANGELES — The Rotarian spearheading an effort to build toilets in a West African country has returned to Port Angeles after seeing the impact of the Dignity Toilets for Togo program.
Doc Reiss, who coordinated efforts to provide compost toilets for families living in the village of Zogbedgi, Togo, stayed in the small country for about two weeks, most of which he spent in the village looking for ways to ramp up the program.
“They told me what it was like and how it changed the lives of their family, made them safer and gave them dignity,” Reiss said. “It was pretty powerful stuff.”
He spent most of the time with Bedi Taouvik Boukari, who heads the program in his village in Togo. Boukari was denied a travel visa to the United States earlier this year.
Before the installation of the compost toilets, people were forced to walk out into surrounding bushes to relieve themselves, Reiss said.
Villagers seeking seclusion must wander further and further away from the town center to find privacy, Reiss has said, adding that some women have been raped in the bushes.
Reiss and crews in the village finished their 23rd toilet since the program began two years ago.
“Each toilet has taken six to 10 people out of the bushes,” he said.
Each toilet costs about $400 and has been funded by donations from Reiss, Nor’Wester Rotary and others, he said.
Reiss has wanted to scale up the program and hopes his visit will help. He said it has been impossible to apply for international grants because the program isn’t attached to a nonprofit organization in Togo.
He met with the chief of the five villages of the Kegue district in Togo, who agreed to help resolve governmental and Rotary issues, Reiss said.
“In exchange, we have promised to continue working in the villages he oversees,” Reiss said.
Reiss said Boukari had tried to set up a nonprofit, but officials had said the project wasn’t big enough.
Currently, crews can build three to five toilets each month, but Reiss said with more funding that number could jump to 12 to 16 per month.
Reiss said that after visiting, he was able to slightly redesign the toilets to make them more user-friendly and a little easier to build.
He said once more funding is secured, labor costs would go down as crews scale up production.
“All the blocks are starting to fall into place as they should for this to be,” he said.
Reiss expects the extended project to take more than 10 years to accomplish, he said.
The compost toilets are built according to plans provided by the Togo government and modified a bit by Boukari, who is paid $100 a month by Reiss.
Each structure is constructed of concrete, rebar and bricks, and incorporates two squat toilets.
Each squat toilet feeds into a separate sealable chamber, he said.
Donations for Dignity Toilets for Togo are currently being accepted through Nor’Wester Rotary, Reiss said.
Donations can be mailed to Nor’Wester Rotary at P.O. Box 176, Port Angeles, WA 98362.
For more on the club, visit rotarynorwester.org.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.